Workers are removing about 70 trees from an iconic row of poplars that lines Interstate 5 near the north Ashland exit.

Workers are removing about 70 trees from an iconic row of poplars that lines Interstate 5 near the north Ashland exit.

The poplars were planted in 1976 to provide a wind buffer for a Bear Creek Orchards pear orchard spreading to the south.

Poplars have a short lifespan by tree standards, and many of the poplars in the three-quarter-mile row are dead or dying.

The row comprises about 400 trees, said Rhonda Klug, public relations administrator for Harry & David, which owns Bear Creek Orchards.

The removal of about 70 trees should be finished by no later than Wednesday, Klug said.

Workers will dispose of the leftover stumps during the summer and plant new trees in spring 2013. The poplars will be replaced with another deciduous tree, but the type has not yet been decided, she said.

More poplars will be cut over the next three to four years, Klug said.

For decades, the row of poplars has announced to tourists and locals alike that they are about to enter Ashland. Some tourists remember seeing the trees as children on school field trips to Ashland.

But while some are disappointed to see the poplars go, Oregon Department of Transportation officials are relieved that dead and dying trees are being weeded out.

"It's good that they're doing that. It's been a concern of the department for some time," said ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming. "Poplars are notoriously short-lived. They get brittle and fall. It's been our concern that they might fall on the shoulder or right of way."

Bear Creek Orchards managers have been keeping a close eye on the towering row of poplars since 2005. The trees were beginning to show signs of damage by 2008, according to Harry & David officials.

The accumulated damage became even more apparent once the row leafed out this past summer, revealing bare, dead trees.

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.